September 19, 2017

NRCM warns: Lawsuit likely if commercial logging permitted in national monument

Courtesy / Jeff Pidot, Natural Resources Council of Maine
Courtesy / Jeff Pidot, Natural Resources Council of Maine
A view of the east branch of the Penobscot River from within a section of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument during the fall. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is visiting the monument Wednesday as part of his review of 27 national monuments nationwide that was ordered by President Trump earlier this year.

Excerpt from NRCM's statement on Zinke's leaked report

Here's the crux of Natural Resources Council of Maine Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann's response to reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending changes to the executive order creating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in order to promote a "healthy forest through active timber management."

Pohlmann wrote:

"The proclamation and the uses outlined in it reflect the agreements that were made by the donor of the land and the National Park Service. As a result, changing it would violate those agreements and the intent of the donation. If the secretary envisions commercial timber harvesting, then it would be a clear violation of the laws that determine how the National Park Service manages lands. Such a proposal would almost certainly trigger a lawsuit. Commercial logging could cause substantial harm to the natural resources protected by the Monument and to the economic and recreation benefits already emerging at Katahdin Woods and Waters. However, if it means managing timber to restore a healthy, natural forest, build trails, and for educational purposes, it could be consistent with the monument's purpose.

"Once more information is publicly released, we will be able to determine whether the recommendations support or harm the values of Katahdin Woods and Waters. We are prepared to support a recommendation that is consistent with the intended purposes in the Presidential Proclamation for Katahdin Woods and Waters, but we also are reserving the option of filing a lawsuit if what is proposed is contrary to the law."

Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, served notice to the Trump administration that allowing "commercial logging" in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would "almost certainly trigger a lawsuit."

Pohlmann's warning is in response to a leaked report from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to President Donald Trump advising that the executive order that created Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument be amended to promote a "healthy forest through active timber management."

The Bangor Daily News reported that "active timber management" typically refers to cutting trees for commercial wood sales for uses such as the manufacture of wood pellets, paper goods and housing materials.

"The report does not define 'a healthy forest' or 'active timber management.' We'll just have to wait and see," Lucas St. Clair, whose family donated the acreage to the federal government last year, told the newspaper.

NRCM response

In a statement issued Monday, Pohlmann agreed with St. Clair's "wait and see" assessment of the leaked report's implications for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

"Without more details, we cannot yet judge whether these recommendations are acceptable and consistent with the overwhelming view of Maine people, problematic for the intended purpose of this monument, or illegal and likely to trigger action in the courts," Pohlmann said.

But she noted that the Trump administration's review process resulted in more than 260,000 comments in support of the national monument, with fewer than 100 in opposition. Only a small fraction, she said, mentioned anything about timber-cutting.

"Thus, for the report to state that 'there are still concerns' that timber harvest will not be permitted in all parts of the monument is a gross distortion of the record," Pohlmann stated. "Because we do not know what the secretary means by 'active forest management,' we have no way to know how damaging this recommendation might be."

Pohlmann questioned references to "revisions to the management plan," stating that any such recommendation "makes no sense because there currently is no management plan."

"The National Park Service is in the middle of a three-year process to develop the management plan for Katahdin Woods and Waters," she said. "Discussion of where various uses should occur within the monument should take place in that context."

Pohlmann said NRCM is "reserving the option of filing a lawsuit if what is proposed is contrary to the law."

Pingree: Leaked report creates 'unnecessary uncertainty'

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, criticized the Trump administration's entire review process for its "lack of transparency."

"The recommendation of opening Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to active timber management creates confusion and unnecessary uncertainty," she stated in a news release. "The National Park Service already has the authority to manage the forest for the resource's health, so this report raises questions about what it really opens the door for. Economic investments are being made in the region right now because the monument is drawing visitors to experience this incredible natural environment. It's foolish to endanger that momentum by leaving unanswered questions about how it will be managed in the future."

Concerns about marine national monument

Zinke also recommended opening the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean to commercial fishing, according to an Associated Press report published by the BDN.

President Barack Obama designated 5,000 square miles off New England as the marine monument about a year ago. Robert Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, told the newspaper that regulated fishing is "pro-conservation and appropriate for all federal waters."

Peter Shelley, senior counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation, disagreed, saying the monument "protects rare and fragile ocean life and serves as an important deep-sea laboratory."


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